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Logic Gaps: The Gun Debate

with 3 comments

(Disclaimer: I don’t know everything. I’m open to being wrong. I don’t think any less of you if you disagree with me and hope to write this in such a way that you don’t think less of me for disagreeing with you.)

In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided that instead of copying and pasting my response onto everyone’s Facebook posts, I’d write this. My goal here isn’t necessarily to change anyone’s mind or push some kind of agenda as much as it is to point out what I see as some pretty big gaps in logic on both sides. I see so many memes tossed around, and I know how easy it is to press that “share” button, but I really don’t see anyone’s cause getting furthered through that kind of thing. If these kind of silly internet things aren’t supposed to be taken so seriously, then maybe the leading voices on both sides shouldn’t be saying them first. And if Ramona High School-educated me can point out all these holes in the arguments, than get better arguments.

The gun rights advocate:

– “Blame the person, not the gun.” I don’t think anyone is legitimately saying that it’s the gun’s fault that murders happen. I agree that it’s the person that pulled the trigger who is responsible for the life they take or body they injure, but let’s be real: having a trigger to pull makes the act of violence way more efficient.

– “(Cars, knives, power tools, etc.) kill X amount of people every year. Should those be outlawed too?” I get the point of this argument, but I really think it’s a false equivalency. There’s a big difference in things that can be used as a weapon versus a weapon that might be used as something else. I’m not an expert in the long history of knives, but I would guess that knives have at least as equal a utilitarian purpose as they do a weapon. I’ll also go on record and say that guns are tools, but it’s time we all admit that they’re tools for killing things. Their primary function is firing a high velocity projectile at a distant object with the intent of putting a hole through it. There’s really no other utilitarian purpose there.

– “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is actually one of the more reasonable things I’ve heard from this side of the debate. If a bad guy with a gun comes at you or anyone else, you would want a good guy with a gun to stop the bad guy. The problem here is that the concept cuts both ways. Maybe the bad guy has better aim, or is better trained, or has a more powerful gun. How many good guys with how many guns do we need? The underlying issue is that this becomes a personal arms race of good guys vs. bad guys. Psychologists still don’t know and can’t predict what the final straw is that makes a person turn to violence, and maybe the well armed good guy that’s a little overzealous is one bad breakup away from being a well armed bad guy.

– “Gun control infringes on the 2nd Amendment.” I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on the 2nd Amendment since the debate reopened after the Newtown shooting. First off, an assault weapons ban like the one in effect from ’94-’04, though unpopular, wasn’t seriously thought to be unconstitutional by a majority of the people. It didn’t end up disputed in the Supreme Court and a strict interpretation of the 2nd Amendment probably wouldn’t have overturned the assault weapons ban. Strictly interpreted, there are still plenty of arms to keep and bear even with an AR-15 type rifle out of the equation. Neither this administration, nor any previous one, has passed a law that would seize firearms from lawful citizens. For that matter, Constitutionally speaking, it’s only been a relatively recent issue in U.S. history that the Supreme Court has definitively interpreted the 2nd Amendment as meaning that it’s specifically an individual right to gun ownership as opposed to a collective right of “the people” as in an organized militia type scenario. In fact, the Supreme Court decision that decided that matter was Distict of Columbia v. Heller, in which Justice Scalia in his writing of the majority opinion of the court also took time to write that “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

– “Israel/Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership and a fraction of the violence. Guns aren’t the problem.” There are a few things wrong with this statement. First, the rate of gun ownership. The Small Arms Survey, a research project in Geneva, focused on gun ownership per country per capita in 2007. Prior to the recent boom in gun sales in the U.S., there were a reported 88.8 guns for every hundred citizens. Factoring in the gun sale surge since 2008, there are an estimated ~300 million privately owned guns in the U.S. and about that many people as well. This means on average, there is one gun for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. According to the same report, in Switzerland there were 45.7 guns for every hundred residents, just slightly less than one gun for every two citizens. The same survey reported that Israel had only 7.3 privately owned guns for every 100 citizens. Neither country is a particularly apt comparison, but for the sake of argument I want to point out some other differences with Switzerland as their rate of ownership is still fairly high. There are a couple of reasons why the Swiss have a high rate of ownership. The primary reason is that almost every male between 20 and 30 is conscripted into military training. Switzerland doesn’t have a standing army, opting instead for a citizens’ militia. As part of their service, they keep their service weapon at home and all service ammunition at a nearby depot. This is part of Switzerland’s very tight regulations on guns. Some of my information may be outdated (or poorly translated from Swiss German), but at some point recently they had and possibly still have universal background checks, mandatory permits to purchase guns, limits to three guns per citizen, and a requirement that each gun have a registered serial number. So even though Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership with a very low homicide rate, it’s still not a valid argument against strict gun control, especially when compared to the U.S.

– “Violent entertainment is just as responsible.” I don’t buy this for one minute. Just about every other country in the world has the same video games and watches the same movies we do and we’re still near or at the top of the list when it comes to violent crimes and murders among developed nations. So either other countries don’t have access to guns to carry out the supposed violent fantasy we’re all being inundated with, or the inability of separating reality from fiction is a distinctly American mental disorder. Also, when gun advocates say something like this to blame violence on something other than guns, I can’t help but find it hypocritical that they’re condemning a piece of media as “violent” that shows people actually using guns.

– “Changing gun laws won’t affect criminals who break the law.” In the most direct sense possible, this makes complete sense, but it doesn’t take into account what enforced regulations can actually accomplish. Let’s start with an assault weapons ban. I don’t think one would stop murders or mass shootings. What I think is that having 7-10 rounds instead of 30 in a magazine would cost a shooter more time and energy and reduce the body count. Now, in a ban like this there would still be plenty of these weapons and magazines available, but with them no longer being manufactured for commercial sale it makes them more difficult and expensive to get. To compare, you can still get a full auto machine gun these days, it’s just incredibly difficult and very expensive. Next, universal background checks. Of course criminals will circumvent the law in order to get a gun without submitting to a background check. Just as with a ban on a certain type of weapon though, the laws of supply and demand take over. People willing to take the risk of selling a gun illegally will know that they’re taking a much bigger risk by doing so. There’s never been a law written that’s 100% effective. The laws that are currently being proposed realistically can’t stop criminals from engaging in criminal activity, but they can make that activity far more difficult.
On a slightly different note, by giving this defense of “criminals won’t obey the law,” there’s an inherent absurdity in attempting to only make laws that criminals would obey.

– “More guns equals less crime.” I have a hard time believing this to be true. I’m not saying that guns as a defense don’t act as a possible deterrent to crime. What I will argue is that statistically speaking, crimes that do occur with a gun present have a drastically inflated chance of a fatality as a result. So maybe this is true, and a further proliferation of guns in the U.S. will make the crime rate plummet. If that’s the case though, I can almost guarantee that the number of fatalities (victim or perpetrator) per crime would sharply rise.

– “The 2nd Amendment exists to protect people from a tyrannical government.” This is absolutely true. From what I’ve read, that’s not the sole reason for inclusion in the Bill of Rights, but it’s definitely one of them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. We have a government with nuclear weapons, predator drones, fighter jets, all manner of heavy artillery, and God knows what else. If an armed insurrection by the populace happened now, it wouldn’t exactly be musket on musket warfare. From this point though, you could equally argue that the 2nd Amendment has been made at least partially obsolete or that every American constitutionally needs access to their own personal arsenal. I think only the former is a realistic possibility.

The gun control advocate:

– “Guns make us less safe.” Based on the statistics I’ve researched, I understand what they’re trying to say. America’s violent crime rate is still the highest among developed nations despite its decline in recent years. Also, crimes tend to be much more fatal when a gun is present. This is maybe the worst way to make this argument though, because it still comes down to the actions of the person holding the gun. A more accurate, if less expedient, way to say this would be, “The ease of guns falling into the hands of those who would recklessly keep and use them make us less safe.”

– “The 2nd Amendment is outdated.” Again, I’ve done a lot of reading about the 2nd Amendment lately and there’s room for that argument. The problem is that by the same line of logic, everything in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is outdated and deserves another look, which is a whole other debate I won’t get into. The problem I’ve seen in hearing people’s use of the text of the 2nd Amendment is that depending on which side is doing the talking, they want to read very literally one part of the text and not mention the rest of it. There’s no denying that it says, “… the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As long as the Bill of Rights exists in the U.S., this can’t be denied or done away with. What I will say is that the 2nd Amendment also starts with, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…,” and was written at the same time that the Constitution explicitly forbade the creation of a national standing army. I really feel like both sides are only getting their 2nd Amendment arguments half right. From what I’ve read and been able to understand so far, the Founding Fathers envisioned an America that relied upon citizen soldiers, much like the Minutemen that fought and won the Revolution. Oddly enough, it’s the first phrase of the sentence that has been made obsolete, but the second part that gets all the attention.

– “Gun control will save lives.” I think that although this will likely be a true statement, it’s impossible to accurately predict what would happen, and fairly misleading. This phrase makes it sound like enacting gun control laws like the ones being currently proposed will make the murder rate plummet overnight. If gun control advocates were serious regardless of the political costs, they would find a way to make handguns less proliferate. Assault weapons (and yes, I know the difference) get the most attention because they’re the scariest looking. Ironically, that’s also why they’re one of the top selling rifles in America. However, assault rifles are far from being the most used guns involved in shooting deaths. Where assault rifles are often used is in mass shootings, along with magazines capable of at least 15 rounds. Gun control may end up saving lives, but there’s no way to measure possible reductions in casualties.

Summary

Obviously, the arguments addressed above aren’t the only ones being made in this debate. The reason I’ve addressed so many more points being made by the pro-gun rights side is simply because I personally hear so many more arguments so much more loudly from that side. There were also a few phrases of outright insanity that I chose not to dignify.

After the hours of reading and weeks of writing this, I don’t think there’s a magic bullet (crappy pun) that will solve our violence and murder problem. There’s little we can do to change the collective heart of America’s people to make murders a thing of the past. Murders (and suicides for that matter) will always happen, and if nothing changes, America will still have a gun problem. As much as enacting gun control is treating a symptom instead of the disease, it has the potential to be very effective at preventing deaths. At this point, I can’t really see why it would be such a big deal to limit magazines to under ten rounds, require and enforce background checks on every gun buyer, have a short waiting period to buy a gun, and maybe even have trigger locks on handguns. If you think you need 30 rounds in a magazine, you probably just need better aim. If you have something to hide that would show up on a background check, the only person that wants you to have a gun is you. If you absolutely have to have a gun this very hour, I seriously question your motives. And if you need your handgun (as opposed to your shotgun or rifle) ready to fire that quickly, I pray you know for a fact who it is you’re aiming at.

If you’ve ever held or fired a gun, you recognize that beyond it being a well engineered piece of machinery, you’re holding the power of life and death in your hand. Guns are both a symptom and a problem. Other symptoms/problems include our collective value of human life and the state of mental health care in our country. Where I feel like all these things collide at a currently impossible obstacle is that in this country owning a gun isn’t just a freedom, it’s a right. Not the right to self defend or rebel against the government (which is constitutionally covered with our voting rights), but to specifically own a certain kind of weapon. A freedom is something granted and potentially has limits, while a right (like voting) is something you feel compelled to exercise. The difference is subtle, but important. I have the freedom to practice religion and I can choose not to exercise it, but if I don’t vote it’s like I’m spitting on the Founding Fathers’ graves. Let’s face it, there are some people who shouldn’t have the right to own the power of life and death. I’m sure gun owners and gun control advocates alike know people who own guns and think to themselves, “How did anyone let them out of the store with a gun?” At the end of all this, I really feel like the best first step that both sides could potentially agree on is trying to make it so that the only people buying guns are people who are responsible enough to own one and making people accountable for the guns that are out there.

P.S. While researching this it’s become incredibly clear just how big an issue suicide is in America. More are committed with a gun than people are murdered with a gun, and no matter what happens with gun laws I sincerely hope that mental health and helping the people who need it becomes a larger priority.

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Written by matt

February 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Matt,
    Nice job! I appreciate your willingness to look at both side of this and you did an excellent job of being as objective as possible.
    If I may add my point of view;
    I feel the 2nd amendment has been over and under interpreted. It is not limited to firearms alone. Knives, swords, archery and slingshots all are “arms”.
    To be honest, all arms/weapons are “assault weapons”. Every weapon has had a military distinction. Muskets were the rifle technology of the day when the constitution was written. Lets not forget that prior to 1994, the term “assault rifle” did not exist in our lexicon. It is a political tool to incite fear into those who have not been exposed to firearms first hand. As far as magazine capacity goes, what is the difference between one bullet that might kill another person, and 10 or 20 or 30? Yes, in a single incident, the body count is lower. But don’t forget the ingenuity of evil. People that are committed to evil deeds are quite adept at bringing their plans and equipment to fruition. I would cite the Oklahoma City bombing as an example, maure, agricrural chemicals and a rental truck. Extremely devistating event.
    I think that it was obvious to our founding fathers that the future would hold unlimited possibilities and that is why the 2nd amendment was written so plainly. It is also worth mentioning that it was written from an governmentally opressed point of view. They knew and had experienced tyranny first hand and wanted to do whatever they could to pass on the blessings of freedom and the tools to preserve it to future generations. In the vast expanse of human history, ALL governments eventually end up subjugating its people. It’s human nature. And because of human nature, I believe that it is quite reasonable for each law abiding citizen to arm themselves as they see fit. We should be able to have and use weapons of our choosing in the defense of our way of life, families and property. We do need some regulation in place that protects society from those that may be mentally, emotionally or simply unable to adequately bear the burden of responsibility. We also need to rebuild our society’s sense of personal responsibility. Something that has been watered down in many ways.
    I believe that, when we study or research any of our Constitutional rights, we need to first take it at face value. The 2nd amendment is only one short paragraph. The final phrase…”shall not be infringed” is Not political rhetoric. It’s the directive to the future leaders of how essential this particular amendment is. It’s self explanatory. If the 2nd amendment is neutered, in any way, how will we as a society, have any practical ability to envoke our rights under the 1st amendment? Just as a side note, remember that Nazi Germany first disarmed its citizens before they began their actions.
    That being said, we do need to be very careful of how we handle this responsibility of owning and using firearms. We also need to be equally careful of how we use and allow our government to act. If you look back at our own history, Prohabition was the direct cause of all kinds of violence in the early part of the 20th century. Nixon’s War on Drugs created the illicit drug trade and the violence that came with it. So, who’s to blame? Who should be held responsible? Us. The leaders of our government and the citizens are equally 100% responsible to contend with these issues.
    Extremism on both sides of this issue is what will be remembered and, unfortunately, will probably be the determining factors. Let us employ sober minded thinking and actions to match!

    Dan Williams

    February 18, 2013 at 7:47 pm

  2. On the subject of “tyranny”….

    Some of my extended family (and many people who grew up within a few miles of my house) fled Communist oppression in Laos.

    The government canceled the currency, and the only “money” worth anything was gold or moonshine.

    One of my best friends growing up only lived through Laos because he hid under other dead kids, who had been bayoneted.

    Obviously, I don’t want mentally unstable people owning guns. And I don’t think America is falling apart in the next 5 years or anything.

    But there are 400,000 actual skeletons in Laos that prove that mentally ill people aren’t the only mass shooters. Oppressive governments have been doing it since the invention of the gun. I’m glad to live in a place that has some sort of safeguard in place to keep that from happening.

    sethtowerhurd

    July 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm

  3. Also, you’re statistically more likely to be the victim of a robbery or home invasion (1 in 5) than a house fire (1 in 8). Almost no one wants to live without a smoke detector. That doesn’t mean EVERYONE should have a gun…but it’s something to think about.

    sethtowerhurd

    July 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm


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